To Name a Hurricane
Katrina, Rita, Andrew, Dean, Inez, Wilma. Simple, familiar names forever linked to the formidable strength and utter devastation of hurricanes.
The word hurricane is derived from "Hurakan," who was the Mayan creation god of storms and floods. Hurricane is the designated term for tropical cyclones in the Atlantic Ocean, the Northeastern Pacific Ocean east of the international dateline and the South Pacific Ocean east of 160E. Tropical cyclones in other ocean basins are known as typhoons or tropical storms.
For centuries, deadly hurricanes were given names memorializing the location, date, or event on which they occurred. Some hurricanes are also associated with positive changes and achievements accomplished by shell-shocked people struggling to rebuild their lives. For example, the hurricane Tempest in 1609, named for its fierce winds and high death count, influenced Shakespeare's play of the same name. The Great Coastal Hurricane of 1785 led to the building of the lighthouse on Cape Henry at Chesapeake Bay, and while the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 is noted as the deadliest natural disaster in United States history, killing over 6,000 people. The survivors rebuilt the city after raising the island to 17 feet above its previous level and building a 17 foot high seawall for protection.
As technology developed, longitude and latitude were used for identification. This system, unfamiliar to many people, often led to confusion and the spread of rumors and false information, especially if two or more hurricanes were active at the same time. Storm warnings from radio stations would frightened people, who, hearing the report, believed they were in danger, when the hurricane was actually hundreds of miles away.
Short, distinctive names were found to provide faster and clearer communication, simplify weather reports, and increase public awareness. The United Nations' World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) criteria for naming tropical cyclones requires names to be short, easily understood when broadcast, and chosen with consideration of cultural sensitivity and political correctness.
The myth that hurricanes in the early 1900s were named after women because of their fury (thus hur-ricane) can be laid to rest. This practice began when George R. Stewart gave female names to hurricanes in his 1941 novel "Storm," and became popular during World War II among military meteorologists who named the storms after their girlfriends and wives.
The U. S. National Weather Service, however, did not officially list female names until 1953 after abandoning the use of the military phonetic alphabet (Able, Baker, Charlie) after an international phonetic alphabet was adopted. In 1978, male names were added to the official list.
Since 1978, the WMO, representing 120 different countries, has maintained pre-determined lists of names for hurricanes and other tropical cyclones. The lists for hurricanes, one for the Atlantic Ocean and one for the Pacific Ocean consist of alternating male and female names in alphabetical order.
Q, U, X, Y, Z are not used in the Atlantic Ocean list, as names starting with those letters are scarce. The Northeastern Pacific list does not use Q or U, but has chosen six names starting with X, Y, Z that are alternated each year. If all the names on the list are taken, subsequent hurricanes are given names of the Greek alphabet (alpha, beta, gamma delta, etc.).
Each of the oceanic regions maintains a list of names culturally specific to that area. The Atlantic and Northeastern Pacific lists include English, Spanish and French influenced names representing the many countries and rich cultural diversity of these regions.
Names of hurricanes that have caused major destruction and/or death are retired from the list for at least ten years in order to avoid confusion, to facilitate insurance claims, and legal actions. Retiring names also assists in making historic references and demonstrates respect for the victims.
The 2008 Hurricane list:
Atlantic Ocean Northeastern Pacific Ocean